Sorry, a little later than usual, I’m visiting my sister and I was trying to be polite and not watch TV all the time.
This was a really interesting episode. Watching the interactions between Sara and Saif it felt familiar to me in a way it took a while to identify. And then it kind of clicked in to place.
Saif married young and had kids young and then that marriage fell apart when the kids were pre-teen. And now the kids are grown up, and he loves them and they love him, but there is this odd wound in the middle of things. I know so many families like this, just because if you marry young you will probably have kids young, and that marriage will fall apart when they are at a certain age. And it’s nobody’s fault, and everyone loves each other very much, and everyone is trying very hard, but there’s this odd scar tissue in the middle of things that you have to learn to work around. And that’s what this felt like, Saif and Sara are trying, and they love each other, but there were all these little moments when they both hesitated and moved away from things. And just the stories they have about each other, about their relationship, you can see the effort there.
I respect that, I respect that a lot more in Saif as a father and Sara as a mature young woman than if they had seemed happy together. It’s a lot of work to keep trying and keep building something up when there is pain in the background. The easier way would be to drift, to let things go, to make it easier on yourself. And I know families there that happened, one of the parents just sort of drifted away after the marriage ended, because it’s easier to drift than to stick it out and try to build something new. And kids who reached Sara’s age and kept punishing their parent, shutting them out instead of trying to understand. But Saif and Sara aren’t doing that, they are having the phone fights and the things you can’t talk about in public and the planned sacrosanct time together. And they will reap the rewards I am sure, 10 years from now if they appear on Koffee again everything will be better. And I am positive everything is already better now than they could have imagined 10 years ago. But it’s not perfect. And they aren’t working towards “perfect”, they are working towards “better”.
Which, I think, is why Karan chose the intro he did, to talk about his relationship with his own father. And talking about without talking about it how his father accepted his sexuality. He begins with a joke about “straight face” and adds “pun not intended”, one of his classic “I’m coming out without coming out” jokes, just to remind us what this is really about. And then he tells how his father always loved him and thought he could be anything. And then tells a story about his first school interview, when he was asked what he wanted to be and he said “hairstylist”. And he didn’t get in to the school and later everyone was asking him “why couldn’t you just say pilot like all the other boys?” And his father defended him, said it was perfectly fine if he wanted to be a haristylist and said it. It’s about acceptance and working through having a not-perfect family and a not-perfect child and just loving anyway, and that’s what this episode is going to be about.
Oh, and I don’t know if this is thematic or not, but Karan is wearing a t-shirt with maybe an Angry Bird on it under his jacket. Most informal look he’s worn so far.
What is definitely thematic is how Sara is dressed. Ridiculous sleeves, very big and high fashion. On a very very short skirted dress. I think it’s perfect, it has personality and a little bit of sex, she isn’t playing the demure innocent little girl. But she also isn’t dressing too old, it’s not some fancy evening length thing, it’s fun and youthful. Most of all, there is a message to her wearing this sexy short dress on an episode with her father. Right there we are told that this will be something different, this father and daughter is different.
Karan opens with that, sort of letting Saif and Sara talk about how their relationship is in however they want to say it, no real specific questions. Saif seems a bit uncomfortable, but not much more than he always is in these kinds of interviews. Sara seems completely at ease and natural, a totally perfect guest right from the start. Except for those little raw places that pop up between her and her Dad. You can see it in their first answers, Saif says something calm and general about how the age gap between them is small, he was only 24 when she was born, so she has always been the patient one. And then Sara talks about how she is getting less patient and opens the door to talk about their last fight over the phone, he hung up on her the way he does, and then she didn’t call him back the way she usually does. So instead he called her to yell at her some more and then hung up on her again. And then she called him back the next day and then they were calm and talked it out. What was the fight about? They both shut up immediately, say they can’t talk about it on TV.
This whole story is so familiar-not-familiar to me. I would never ever have that with my father. I would never be so disrespectful as to yell at him, and he would never lose control with me so much as to yell. And certainly if we did have something like that, he would be the one to make the first move, not me. And yet, it sounds like what I have seen over and over with people in that same situation. Saif falls into a pattern of yelling because it’s what he knows and Sara falls into a pattern of forgiving because it is what she knows. And in some ways their relationship might be closer than what I have with my father, they are going to be able to talk like equals, about weaknesses and strengths and fears and so on in a way I will never do with my father. But the price you pay for it is the yelling and the ickiness. Maybe that’s why they don’t see the ickiness of the phone fight, see this story as something unusual or wrong, because they know that they are closer after that fight. But on the other hand, they do both know that the actual topic of the fight is something they can’t talk about on TV because it’s still too fragile an area.
Karan than opens it up to talk about Kareena. And again, Sara takes the lead and handles it perfectly. She says that Kareena told her “you have a wonderful Mom, I am a friend”. Which is a pretty great way to handle things as a stepmother, but also a bit revealing of the particular kind of divorce/stepparent relationship she has. I know there are other families where the kids are little enough and in and out of the home enough that the stepparent cannot be just a “friend”, but has to be respected as a co-disciplinarian and co-parent. Sara was already a teenager when Saif remarried, and it sounds like Kareena opted to absent herself from getting in the middle of them, from taking on any parenting responsibilities. Which is fine, but also kind of explains the particular way Saif and Sara are fighting towards each other now, because there is really no buffer, it is just the two of them, both Amrita and Kareena have refused to act as go-betweens. Oh, and Sara ends with another revealing but well said statement, that she feels she has two happy homes instead of one unhappy one. Great! Two happy homes! But OH! Poor little girl Sara who was aware her home was unhappy, and poor grown up Sara who can look back on those memories now. It comes up later that she knows the exact day her Mom threw her Dad out of the house, and remembers it as her throwing him out (not as “the day you mutually decided to separate and sat down and explained it to me in a calm loving manner”).
(Look how happy they were!)
She has some other stories that kind of fill in the same picture. Has never been shopping with Kareena, but remembers when she and Saif were on a trip to Florence and Venice and Kareena joined them in Rome, but was so bored with all the museums they were going too. And how when they are fighting on the phone, Amrita is on her side saying “calm down” and Kareena is in the background on the other side also saying “calm down”. So, what I am getting is that Saif and Sara have dad-daughter time, that they go on trips and share a love of museums and Saif likes showing them to her. And then sometimes Kareena is invited to join. But Sara and Kareena, not so much with the alone relationship. And at the same time, Amrita and Saif. Amrita and Kareena are both only connected through this intermediary relationship. Again, not uncommon, and a tribute to both Saif and Sara that they are struggling through this more difficult kind of connection without anyone else to help, instead of just giving up.
Even as far back as the wedding, Karan brings that up, mentions that Amrita dressed Sara for it. And Saif talks about how just before the wedding, he wanted to send a note to Amrita thanking her for a wonderful life and all she had been to him. He had Kareena read it before he sent it. And on the other end, Amrita shared it with Sara and it let her come to the wedding with a “happy heart”. And again, ouch! Everyone is doing the right thing, Saif was right to share that with Kareena before sending it. Amrita was right to share it with Sara in order to help her feel better. But what’s coming through is that the wedding and all these little careful gestures are tiny stitches across the gaping wound that is Amrita and Saif’s break-up, a gaping wound for them and for their kids.
(I think this is Sara at her Dad’s wedding, and she does look gorgeous)
On happier topics, Karan tries to get Saif to bite and give a good soundbite on Sara dating now. Saif and Sara (and Karan!) all agree that she has only had one boyfriend, who lived in Karan’s building so he saw her go in and out. And Saif knew him and hung out with him and all. Saif doesn’t even pretend that he was a stern authoritarian father. But he does say something a little odd, says that he was “like that with Soha too”. Now, Saif is 8 years older than Soha. And she was 33 when their father died. So the very fact that Saif’s first point of reference to his daughter dating is Soha tells me that maybe there is a bit of an old-fashioned streak in him, that even when his father was alive he saw Soha as partly under his protection, that he at least considered how he should handle her boyfriends.
With the tricky personal stuff over, Karan moves on to the tricky career stuff. Obviously Saif is here for Sara’s career, not his own. He has no major movies coming up, nothing really happening at this exact moment. So Karan has to make it a general question, nods towards Sacred Games and Saif’s series of flop movies before that and just generally asks about career “ups and downs”. And Saif gives an okay general answer, mentions that Sara was born during a “down”, talks about learning so much form the people he works with and growing as an actor. The most revealing part to me is that he says he never really feels bad when a film flops, always thinks “well it was a bad film” or something like that. I agree with him, I don’t think I’ve seen Saif give a bad or lazy performance. But it’s also a sign of his position in the industry, when a Khan film flops it is because they didn’t lean on the director or writer or producer in the right way. Saif doesn’t have that, can’t lean like that. Even now that he is producing, it definitely feels like he is holding back, letting his business partners and others take the lead.
But what is really interesting, to me, is that Sara jumps in at this point to expand his answer. She is already more confident in the interview than he is, and she also has that instinct to protect her father as an equal. She explains that he has more in his life than acting, he is learning guitar and French and doing all sorts of other things, so the acting isn’t that important. But she also adds that she thinks he did feel a little bad this time. A very savvy rewording, gives us a bit of a glimpse of Saif as a person that makes us like him, but also softens his “I don’t care” enough so that we feel as though he is human, and wants the audience to like him.
There’s kind of a flip from Sara taking care of Saif to Saif taking care of her in the next exchange. Karan asks about Sara’s career starting and sort of brushes by the idea of difficulties (probably referring to how Kedarnath stalled out and she had to switch to Simmba) and she sums it up with a cheerful “alls well that wends well” which Saif breaks in to correct to “alls well that starts well” in a very fatherly “don’t be too cocky or optimistic, stay grounded” way, that also (for me) filled in a whole backstory of family drama over the Kedarnath disaster leading up to Saif stepping in to help set up Simmba. And then the exchange continues with Sara trying to bright side it by saying that she learned difficult lessons on her first movies but hopefully will go on to learn less difficult lessons and Saif pulling her back with “they are all difficult lessons” in another very fatherly moment of bringing her to earth. It was good parenting, being that kind of reality check and caution light. And it makes me wonder (just for myself) if that is how they mostly interact, Saif as the one trying to challenge her world view, and thus all the fights.
(And, obviously, he is doing it in an effort to protect her, to prepare her for a world that he sees as harsher than she does)
Speaking of her world view, Karan tries a different thing with his next segment, instead of having friends talk about them, he has the popular paparazzi talk about Taimur! Which is fascinating in so many ways! A great outside the box idea from Karan first, kudos to him. But also interesting that the paparazzi was willing and accessible to do this. A sign that perhaps the media-celebrity relationship isn’t as acrimonious as it is sometimes painted for the public.
But what I found really interesting was Karan and Saif casually talking about how Taimur’s “rate” per picture is around 1500. Karan says he thought it would be more, Saif says that is what his “father-in-law” (Randhir Kapoor) told him. It gives a vision of all of them sort of knowing and tracking these things without thinking about it too much. Especially when Sara herself is shocked at this idea, that there is a rate card in existance and everyone knows it. Sara has had her own “rate” probably her entire life, but it was a small thing her parents protected her from knowing, and now that she is stepping into the limelight, she gets to learn it. Another “difficult lesson” like her father promised.
Saif/Taimur got their moment, now Karan digs up footage for Sara. First he mentions something about her always wanting to be an actress and both Saif and Sara immediately remember her “ad films”. Karan is confused, because Sara was never in ads, and then they explain that as a little girl, she used to act out advertisements for the family. It’s sweet, this glimpse of a family joke that both Saif and Sara think of immediately.
But Karan actually plays old movies of Sara acting as a teenager, first acting at home (I think with her brother) with her mother directing (“face the camera!”), and then acting for herself at college. For the films themselves, they made me really like and really be excited about Sara as an actress. Not that there is a ton of raw talent on display, but there is a ton of raw passion. And uninhibated confidence, the camera is her friend. That’s the same thing that she is doing so well in this interview, being open and honest and confident with everything instead of trying to hide herself away.
(I hadn’t seen that confidence on camera before in paparazzi photos, but it is definitely there in her posed photos)
The other thing about these movies is that they were made when Sara was quite quite larger. A kind of odd side-effect of the paparazzi “rate” conversation they just had, we all know Sara used to be a lot larger. Sonam did as well, and loads of other actress, they talk about it casually. But there are no photographs, the public didn’t have years of watching them at that size, it is just something that comes up occasionally. With Sara, it HAS to be discussed, I am sure it is already being discussed by meanspirited people in articles, and so they just got it out and dealt with in this interview. In a casual joking “oh yeah, that’s what I was” kind of way, which is healthy and also PR savvy. I did find it interesting that Sara remembers her Dad telling her “soon it will be rude to call you fat”. That didn’t come off as cruel to me, or even bad parenting. Maybe clumsy parenting? But then, from the way they talk about it, it sounds like Sara may have needed that little wake up call, especially if she was dead set on being an actress. And we have seen for the past few years Dad and daughter gym dates and tennis matches and all kinds of things that make me think he took responsibility for helping her with this problem, didn’t just point it out. Especially because, during this part of the conversation, Saif reaches out and touches her slightly like he is trying to reassure her or comfort her somehow. Sara doesn’t get it, says “what was that?”, but that’s what it looked like to me.
And then, finally, rapid fire! And for once it didn’t feel like a relief, unlike a lot of the episodes this season, this one didn’t feel like the conversation was a painful struggle on the way to the games. This felt light and interesting and fun. And that’s mostly on Sara, she really is good at the interview game, a natural.
Saif has a few interesting answers. Karan asks him what he would ask Sara’s boyfriend about, and his first answer is what are his politics and second if he is on drugs. Now, that’s revealing! Drugs sure, that’s a sensible parental concern. But the politics, kind of a sign of both how separated Indian politics are right now. Well, always I guess. And how important Saif finds those questions. That is the FIRST thing he cares about the person who is spending time with his daughter. Oh, and then Karan pushes about if he would ask about money, and Saif picks up on the joke and says “Got money? Take her!” which gets a big laugh, and deserves a big laugh because of how silly and clearly against how he really feels it is.
Other interesting answers, Karan asks who he would not ask for career advice, and the response is Viviek Oboroi, followed by an immediate apology because Viviek is very nice, but you know…. Ha! Poor Viviek. Still the industries punching bag. Not enough power to worry about offending. Kareena keeping secrets came up as her being the worst at it, but then Saif said she can keep a secret, she may tell him but not anyone else if she says like “Lolo said not to say anything…” Which kind of backwards confirms something I had always thought, that Kareena’s one true total loyalty is to Karisma.
(Huh, I forgot they were in Kurbaan together, along with Omkara)
And there were two times Saif went off script. First when Karan asked him who his favorite director was and Saif bypassed the choices Karan gave him to pick Imtiaz Ali. Which is super interesting to me! Because Love Aaj Kal is certainly not Saif’s best performance or best movie, but from what I have heard Imtiaz really is an experience to work with. So that kind of confirms what Saif was saying, that he just enjoys the learning experience of his movies. And he goes off script when asked who is most competitive to pick Akshay (and Shahrukh as a second). Which is interesting because that must mean Akshay is really competitive if Saif is forcing him in as a write in answer. And also a fun little nod to how close Saif and Akshay are!
And then it’s Sara’s turn and she does REALLY WELL. Fun answers, and also diplomatic answers. She says she would drop everything to work with Varun (might be a hint that a casting announcement is coming, might be lobbying for that casting). And when picking her favorite co-star, picks Ranveer without hesitation. Which tells me he probably is fun to work with, but also that she is going for the co-star in the less controversial film and with more current industry weight.
My favorite answer is when Ranbir comes up, her Dad says something about her wanting to marry him and she is a little embarrassed seeming, but then switches to owning it, brings it up a couple of times in a kind of cute laughing at herself way. But when Karan asks who she would date, immediately picks Kartik, because Ranbir is for marriage only. She is very confident and casual about it, no maidenly embarrassment. Which I find particularly interesting since earlier it was confirmed that she only had one real boyfriend. What it reads like to me is that she is comfortable with this conversation not because she is a wild rebel, but because she is an adult, she went overseas to college, she had a life, joking about dating and crushes is territory she is used to, not embarrassing. That’s healthy and good for her and also for, like, The World. Compared to just 20 years ago when Aishwarya was giving interviews declaring herself as never having dated and waiting for an arranged marriage, perpetuating a myth that modern global working women can still only be comfortable in traditional Indian roles. Sara is saying “no, it’s fine, this is what is”.
(Ugh, that 1999 60 Minutes interview! So frustrating with how she has to present herself as this impossible ideal)
And then the final game, which I mostly found interesting for how uninteresting it was. Again, in the other episodes we have been dragging to the games. In this one, I was perfectly happy with just the conversation, didn’t even need Rapid Fire. Especially because Saif and Sara aren’t really good “game” people. Karan has them do just a simple one, take turns coming up with examples of whatever he says (Queens, actor’s whose names start with S, nicknames, etc.). It wouldn’t be a great game for anyone, not a lot of room to do physical comedy or anything, but for Sara and Saif in particular, it’s not good. Saif is never going to be really goofy unless you force him, and Sara is on her first show. So it’s a boring game, no real interesting moments, kind of ends the episode flat.
But it was a really great episode! Partly because, I think, it did what Koffee started out trying to do, force the stars to show the public a little bit of themselves, their real selves. Karan talks about it in his book, he sincerely believes that if the star system is going to succeed, stars have to be willing to open up to the public. That’s the goal of his show, he structured it to make them open up, not to create “gotcha” moments but because he thinks that is how they can make people love them, if they are real like that. He wants to help them.
The Koffee episodes that are the best aren’t about the snarky insults or clever comments, it’s about what they reveal down below. That Emraan Hashmi is smarter and more self-aware and less concerned with being part of the in crowd than you would have suspected. That Deepika is capable of being hurt and being angry, not just a perfect pretty face. That Shahrukh (and I think this might be why his Karan episodes are always so good) truly loves Karan and knows him and vice versa. That Aamir Khan is insanely competitive and energetic and funny and a little bit sexy. That Twinkle and Akshay have an amazing and very honest and open and funny marriage. And now this episode, that lets us see the dirty bits and pieces of Saif and Sara’s relationship.
(I was just thinking about this episode, it’s remembered as the “mean girls” episode and stuff, but it also turned Dips from a pretty girl that Ranbir loved and dumped, a “loser”, to someone we actually cared about and were mad at him for miss-treating. This is what happens when you let the public in a little bit)
It feels a little strange to spend my entire time just talking about the deeply personal parts of their life. But they are celebrities, their personal life is public property, by talking about it on this show they have made it even more public property. And Karan is right, it does make me like them more. This isn’t an easy relationship, or one that could happen by just following the standard guidebook. Sara and Saif had to work hard for it and it is remarkable that they have achieved what they have achieved. And it is, legitimately, a public service for them to come forward and let us see where they are, to talk about how sometimes divorce turns out better for the kids than staying together would have been, how a father and daughter can build a bond separate from the mother or stepmother. How a father and daughter can build a bond PERIOD, Ibrahim barely comes up in this episode. Which is appropriate, he’s not a public figure, leave him out of it. But also paints a clear picture of Sara and Saif spending time together just as themselves, Saif making an effort with his daughter as much as with his son. How many fathers can say that? Especially divorced fathers?